International media attention has focussed on President Dilma Rousseff’s new cabinet following her presidential election win in October 2014, and particularly on the evolution of her new administration’s economic policy, writes Dr Joseph S. Tulchin.
And there is good reason for this. Brazil, the sixth largest economy in the world, has global aspirations.
But there are two other issues which will have a profound mark on President Rousseff’s second term in office. One is Brazil’s growing role in south-south cooperation; the other is the festering sore of citizen insecurity.
Brazil’s special relationship with former Portuguese colonies was the basis for a growing conviction among Brazilian politicians that it had a destiny as a South Atlantic power.
Today, Brazilian military strategic thinking includes a blue water navy with special responsibilities in the South Atlantic. Cautious cooperation with America’s Fourth Fleet is based on a sense that Brazil must share strategic ‘concern’ for the South Atlantic with the US.
Brazilian governments have taken its links to the global south seriously since its return to democracy in the 1980s. Ties to Cuba began under President Rousseff’s predecessor, Lula da Silva, who reached out to Cuba’s government to forge a partnership which has become stronger over the past decade.
This partnership is notable for three elements. First, it is buttressed by the extraordinary economic expansion of China in its demand for raw materials and its capacity and willingness to provide investment capital to trading partners in the global south. Both Brazil and Cuba have benefitted from their relationship with China over the past decade.
Second, the link between Cuba and Brazil is a two-way street. Brazil has provided the capital and expertise for the construction of a deep-water container port in Mariel. The port, inaugurated with great pomp by President Rousseff in 2013, will be of enormous significance when the Panama Canal expansion is completed, the US embargo on Cuba lifted, or when the canal in Nicaragua is built. The first of these is imminent, the second can occur at any time, while the third remains a dream.
Cubans have sent 10,000 doctors and other medical staff to Brazil to help President Rousseff’s government launch an emergency programme to improve medical care in rural areas. It has also trained another 1,000 Brazilian doctors to help in the programme.
Third, the Brazilian role in Cuba is tri-partite. It involves state agencies, the para-statal Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) and the private sector via the giant construction contractor Odebrecht. This cooperation mirrors the organisation of Chinese development policy and fits well with the Cuban model.
Brazil’s cooperation with Cuba may be one of the most important foreign policy initiatives by President Rousseff’s government.